Did you always want to work in Broadcasting?
No, in my early teens I was very interested
in chemistry (always top of the class
in it) and was aiming to become a pharmacist
(thank goodness I never went further with
that idea). By my mid teens, I had taken
a rather strange interest in automatic
telephony. I learned so much I was able
to design and build a 50 line automatic
telephone exchange at home. Various manufacturers
kindly supplied masses of heavy equipment
and the Post Office (taken over by BT)
also helped enormously. Two manufacturers
asked if I would consider leaving school
at 16 to join them. The PO was also keen
to get me at 18 and
put me on their executive engineering
scheme. Now that did interest me but my
advanced maths was not good and you needed
it to reach the highest rungs of the Post
Office. Had I been good at advanced maths
I think I could have had a glittering
career in that field.
By 16 I realised I had a third passion:
art. Could I study chemistry, art and
say biology? No you cannot was the head's
immediate answer. He would not allow chemistry
and art but he would allow biology if
the head of the adjoining girls school
would allow me into their lessons. So
I ended up sticking with the sciences.
Not a good idea. And to be honest, I found
hard slog too as I only do well when I
am really interested in something, the
interest by then waning.
I was a bit of a nerd at school. Well
actually that's not true. I was a total
nerd. My nickname was "professor"
though I can tell you my intelligence
did not match up to the name! Over the
years I have met many real professors
and found them the least nerdy people
you could imagine! Ah well, that's life.
If you think someone matching my profile
probably wouldn't have much to do with
sport you'd be right - in my case anyway.
In my school days I think I only paraded
out onto the sports field half a dozen
times in my first year and then not at
all after that. The same with pe. I had
an illness which I played on to the full
thanks to a doting mother. It was wonderful.
However, I mention all this because it
would have direct relevence to some of
my later work. Contrast would probably
be a better word. Not being sure what
to make of me, my school pushed me towards
training to be a teacher. I studied...er...chemistry
and art, which is what I'd wanted all
- How did you get into the job?
In my spare time as a student I worked
at BBC Radio Stoke-on-Trent. They used
to send me off to far flung places to
get funny interviews for Monday's breakfast
show. In the evening I then helped edit
and thread up tapes for a live sport show.
One Saturday, instead of sending me out
they asked if I could help at regional
swimming gala. I thought it would be reeling
out the cables but no. Their "man"
wasn't available so could I report live
throughout the afternoon? So that was
my very first live
reporting job. In at the deep end as they
say. I taught for a year before chucking
it in and joining some of the very people
from Stoke who'd set up a new station:
Radio Humberside. It was casual labour
as the BBC called it, reclaiming pieces
of scrap recording tape. Remember, I'd
thrown in a secure teaching job with pension
to do this! Then a stroke of luck. Would
I get an interview with some yobs who
were vandalising an estate? I did more
than that. I secretly made a documentary
about gangland warfare including hells
angels, motorbike gangs and skinheads
all going on in the city. It was hot stuff
drawing a few irate comments, mostly from
the local council. I got the next staff
job that came up and I never had to reclaim
scrap tape again.
- Where was your first announcing
Basically, it was BBC Radio Humberside.
I got to present and produce programmes
there and like the rest of the team had
regular continuity shifts. It is all different
now but in those days it was like a cross
between Radio 2 and Radio 4 but on a lower
budget. You had to link to recorded and
live programmes, fill when needed, and
join the BBC networks with split second
timing. I had a knack of filling the most
unexpectedly long gap calmly and without
mistake, going through all kinds of pieces
of paper thrust my way including the weather
forecast - precisely reaching the first
pip of the time signal with just a hair's
breadth to spare.
I also stood in regularly for music show
presenters when they were on holiday including
Paul Heiney's (of Watchdog) drive time
Now, the really interesting thing is
I became the station's sports editor!!!!
Yes, the man who hated sport at school.
What happened was I wanted to keep fit
and asked contacts at the local council
to put me on a course. They suggested
some and mentioned one that was totally
unsuitable for me: rugby union training.
So I did that (I always have been a bit
of a rebel). And liked it. And ended up
playing for various teams. And took up
amateur rugby league too. It made me look
like some kind of sports fanatic which
the station wanted. Years later I also
worked as a senior producer for Screensport,
now Eurosport. I hope my old games master
gets to read all of this.
- Where did you hear about the
job at Grampian and what were they like
to work for?
I am not sure. I used to write a lot of
letters to ITV companies so they would
probably have already had me on file when
a job came up. I think it may well have
been David Bennett who tipped me off.
- Who auditioned you for the
job and what did it involve?
Kennedy Thomson was the man. What a wonderful
personality. I can't remember what the
audition involved but almost certainly
included some short introductions to programmes
and a little newsreading. Nothing as daunting
as the interview for my job as announcer
at BBC TV Centre, when there were six
people along a row of tables with me sitting
on a solitary chair in the middle of the
room. It was followed by a grueling studio
session and dozens of biochemical names
in a script from the Open University.
I didn't fluff one and so began my career
as a tv announcer.
- Did you have to go through
any special training for going invision
No, as I had already been an in-vision
announcer for the BBC, mainly as a full
time presenter in the Leeds newsroom though
I also popped up elsewhere including Manchester
and Newcastle. In the BBC regions at various
times of the day you also had to work
a sound and vision mixer (as well as other
bits of equipment) which were just underneath
and out of sight. When Leeds invited me
for audition I went to my bedroom, hung
a mirror on the wall as the camera, tore
up sheets of paper to represent the row
of preview monitors, and drew a control
panel. It was like learning to touch type.
By the time of the audition I could operate
their desk even though I'd never used
it before. However, they just wanted me
to sit and read and not operate. I persuaded
them to let me direct, operate and present
the whole audition - which they couldn't
believe was happening. The
job was offered immediately. Cunning,
- What was it like reading the
North News /Headlines without an autocue?
Yes, you are right, they did not have
Autocue in that studio and which I was
used to. You have to absorb as much of
the script as possible as you look down.
Getting the script in good time is essential
if you are to deliver it well without
a prompter. Thankfully this always happened
at Grampian. Still, I think a prompter
would have been money well spent. However,
they tend to be big contraptions so I
doubt if one would have fitted in the
- What was the continuity studio
on the first floor like to work in and
did you get the chance work in the new
one on the ground floor?
I left just before the new facilities
came online. The old ones were typical
of all ITV stations of the time: cramped,
a little old fashioned, and rather claustrophobic.
Viewers had no idea what a grotty box
it was, such was the illusion created.
One station (not Grampian) had an old
sideboard just out of shot on top of which
was a row of brown sauce bottles - handy
for when their announcer ate in-front
of camera though not when it was on I
hasten to add.
- Both shifts were split with
the early announcer going for lunch after
annoucing into news at one .The late announcer
would read the North News at 1.20 and
cover until about 3pm, then come back
for the evening . Did you find the late
shift quite a long day .What time did
you have to start and prepare for the
lunchtime bulletin .The early shift seemed
to be quite easy what did the announcer
do for three hours when schools programmes
The early shift was a little tedious
as there was so little to do. However
you needed to be there just in case. Rehearsing
the news didn't take too long as I was
well used to that in my previous jobs
at the BBC. The one thing I always did,
no matter what the shift was to familiarise
myself fully with the programmes that
day, the next day and later that week.
I even wrote emergency scripts of at least
a minute or so to cover all kinds of eventualities
and knew the TV Times inside out. I'd
recommend the technique to all aspiring
announcers as you will never be left with
egg on your face that way. In-fact it
is really what they paid you for - not
for just sounding nice but being Mr Grampian,
the company's representative on screen
and not looking stupid when things went
wrong. That's a point - confidence through
preparation - a lot of newcomers don't
seem to realise it's so important.
- What are your memories of the
other announcers on the team?
It was a very enjoyable team to work
with - all of them. If you didn't like
the work and the team you really didn't
deserve to be there. But I should really
include not just the announcers but the
unseen people too. These included those
just inches away behind the glass - the
transmission directors who switched between
pictures and made sure everything ran
to the second and the transmission assistants
too. And not too far from them were the
many engineers who operated all the machines
bringing us the films and video tape sequences.
We all knew each other and it was a great
team. Of-course, it goes beyond that as
we had script writers and others in the
back office. That was the nice thing about
Grampian, we all knew each other. I knew
everyone in the newsroom, all the programme
directors, and indeed the bosses. They
were all excellent people to work with
and I can
honestly say it was one of the best companies
you could have ever wished to work for.
- What year did you begin working
for Grampian what year did you leave?
Oh dear I've erased that from my memory.
I wish I could still be there!
- What made you decide to move
on from Grampian and what have you being
doing since you left?
I actually left twice! The first time
was because I'd been head hunted by a
new radio station to produce current affairs
programmes. However, the deal was I also
had to present their afternoon show. Unknown
to me, it was probably the real reason
for getting me - because I "sounded
good". I soon realised that playing
records was not my forte. Grampian hadn't
my old job so I came back (now how many
companies would let you do that?). My
heart though was to eventually go behind
the camera - into production of some sort.
I ended up as a television director in
ITV though unfortunately never at Grampian
which would have been my dream ticket.
I've directed in war torn Belfast during
all the bombing, worked on everything
from pig farming to children's programmes,
and been the director for Central tv's
fast moving live news show - covering
the biggest tv area in Britain. Indeed
Central was another friendly place though
physically on a much greater scale than
Grampian. It was a vast building from
where the famous soap, Crossroads used
to come. Being a director requires you
to be quite a different animal to a continuity
announcer. You had to stop being Mr Nice
Guy all the time though the old rule of
preparation and confidence still counted
just as much.
I also trained in journalism, took a
short law course, and was one of the highest
scoring students they'd ever had. Without
me even applying, the BBC offered weekend
editing at one of its stations though
the early rising - which I hate - put
a stop to my enthusiasm. How I wished
I'd stuck at it as I had literally everything
going for me - presentation and production
skills and then journalism. That has been
my biggest regret in life. All because
I liked to stay in bed. What a stupid
boy I was. Anyone like to
offer me the job again?
However, my next move was into management.
I'd already helped launch Britains very
first satellite movie channel years earlier
and the experience proved useful when
I set up the presentation department for
the Daily Mail's news station, Channel
One in London. Again, another excellent
company to work for and brimming with
enthusiastic people working at the cutting
edge. I also did the same for the Mail's
other stations in Bristol and Liverpool
as well as their then arts channel, Performance.
Next came an even bigger job based in
Amsterdam doing pretty much the same but
for 7 channels in as many countries and
languages throughout Europe. It was the
world's first multi-channel, multi-lingual
set up which also did not use any tapes,
broadcasting instead from computer servers.
About as hi-tech as you could get.
I have since been involved in a lot lecturing
and trained virtually the whole production
staff of a new national tv station out
For some stupid reason I had a beautiful
house built in Slovenia and now realise
that at the age of 60 I am still virtually
as I was when I was 35 or 40 (minus the
hair). What am I doing here? As a first
step back to civilisation I have bought
another house in Germany alongside the
Dutch border - and rather handy for regular
trips back by air to the UK. No offer
refused though preferably not reclaiming